Did God Create the World Last Tuesday? (the Problem with the “Appearance of Age” Approach)

I’m using the excellent book, Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (by Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma) for my theology class (“God the Creator”) this semester. In their treatment of the “concordist” approaches to Genesis 1-2 (concordist approaches attempt to follow the “chronology” of the biblical creation accounts), they mention the “Appearance of Age” approach. In this view, God created the universe in six literal, 24 hour days; the present earth and universe are somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. Furthermore, God created everything with the appearance of very old age, such that scientists are not necessarily wrong in observing old age and long time scales–they just aren’t in on the full story (or joke, if you prefer). Some proponents say the reason why God created the universe with old age is aesthetics. An immense universe, grand canyons and big trees with lots of rings are more beautiful than a small universe, shallow ditches and short twigs. I suppose it’s the same principle which inspires some furniture makers to put etches (“scratches”) or dents on new tables and clothing designers to make jeans with holes

In any case, the approach is deeply problematic, as it turns science into a discipline of studying mere phenomena (“appearances”) and, fare more disturbingly, a creator God who is a at root, a deceiver and a charlatan. The Haarsmas put it this way:

This interpretation would mean that God embedded within the universe a host of evidence that indicates a long, richly detailed history that never happened. Sedimentary layers look as though they formed in a muddy sea bottom, except that the sea never existed. Igneous rock layers look as though they were formed from repeated volcanic outflows, but the volcano never erupted. Millions of plants and animals are found in the fossil record, but those organisms never actually lived. Would God have created the earth with evidence of a rich, complicated history that is completely false? We might as well ask, “Did God create the world last Tuesday?” God could have created  the earth last week, complete with history books on library shelves, decayed statues in museums, and false memories in our brains, but this seems dishonest.

I have to admit, it’s intriguing to imagine that God created the universe last Tuesday. However, if that were true, I wouldn’t quite know what to think of God.


About Kyle Roberts

(PhD) is Associate Professor of Public Theology and Church and Economic Life, supported by the Schilling Endowment, at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Roberts has published essays on Kierkegaard and modern theology, including several essays in the series Kierkegaard Research: 2014-10-14 10.26.51Sources, Reception and Resources (Ashgate / University of Copenhagen) and other collected volumes on various topics, including Pietism, Karl Barth, and Christian spirituality. Roberts has published Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God (Cascade, 2013) and is currently co-authoring a theological commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans) and a book about the virgin birth (Fortress Press, Theology for the People)